I'm gearing up for "Want to Write A Book? How About Next Month?" this week, reading Chris Baty's wise words on doing just enough--but not too much--planning.
One thing in particular that caught my attention was his admission of how badly he crashed & burned when he tried to write a "serious" book, rather than the kind of story that came naturally to him (you know, the kind he'd actually like to read...)
I've been thinking about this. I tend not to like serious books unless they speak specifically to something I'm thinking about in the moment. So Steinbeck's East of Eden rocked my world a few weeks back because I was working on a talk about sibling rivalry and how it traces all the way back to Cain & Abel. But then a friend recommended this Pulitzer Prize winner, and I barely made it past chapter three. Yes, the author captured the grim bleakness of certain (perhaps many) lives. But no matter how I tried to force myself to buckle down and appreciate the lyricism of the prose (or whatever I was supposed to be captured by) I couldn't get past the basic truth that the characters were not folks I wanted to spend time with.
Which means that no matter how interesting it might be to win a Pulitzer, I'd likely make myself miserable trying to write something along these lines. We have to WANT to spend time with our characters, in the situations they go through. We have to care how things turn out. (And we shouldn't have to be reminded of this, but somehow, I do...) Chris' wise words:
"As you plan your book this week, remember, above all else, that your novel is not a self-improvement campaign. Your novel is a spastic, jubilant hoe-down set to your favorite music, a [forty]-day visit to a candy store where everything is free and nothing is fattening. When thinking about possible inclusions for your novel, always grab the guilty pleasures over the bran flakes. Write your joy, and good things will follow."
A spastic, jubilant hoe-down? Sign me up!!!
Chris also made a good suggestion for this week I'll pass along:
Make two lists:
1. Things you love to see in a novel (situations, settings, relationships, time frames...)
2. Things that make you drop a book unfinished into the "to be donated" pile.
If they're not too embarrassing, I'll share mine later this week :)